Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 1, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie


1609 - 1664

Charter Establishing the Dutch West India Company (1621) -- Director-General Minuet's Council--Duties of the Schout-Fiscal -- First Trace of a Penal or Police system (1623) -- the island Assuming an Aspect of Permanent Settlement (1639) -- a Reason why Justice was Administered with Great Promptness -- Erection of a Stadt Huys (1642) -- Regulations for the Better Observance of the Sabbath -- Establishment of a Burgher Guard (1643) -- New Regulations Contemporaneous with the Arrival of Governor Stuyvesant -- A Career of Reform--Ordinance Regulating the Sale of Liquor -- Appointment of a Rattle Watch (1651) -- The City Incorporated (1652) -- the Police of the City Chiefly Centered ina Schout -- Regulations of the Burgher Watch -- Dirk Van Schillwyne, First High constable (16550 -- Organization of a Paid Rattle-Watch (1658) -- Instruction for the Burgher Provost -- Records of Court Cases -- Capture of the Province by the British.

Every historical narrative relating to the city of New York must of necessity be a history of progress. Whether the broad course of general events be followed, or some particular phase of the city's life be made the theme, the result is the same. Growth, development, progress underlie every change; and give a splendid vitality to every event.

It is proposed in this volume to give a history of the New York Police Force--a history of that system by which the great public protects itself against its natural enemies. This narrative will, indeed, be one of progress. Starting from beginnings as humble as those of the infant city itself, it will, by an unbroken series of steps, arrive at a breadth and perfection of system commensurate with the modern glories of the American metropolis. This will be the most remarkable feature of the story, that--speaking broadly--there is neither defeat, failure, nor stagnation to be chronicled. When the force stands still as respects numbers, it is becoming more perfect in organization; when development ceases for the moment in its organization, it is gaining in power and efficiency.

All the world knows that in 1609, the year of Dutch independence--surely a good augury -- Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing under the colors of the Netherlands, started on a famous cruise in search of the Northwest passage to the Pacific. He did not find it, but instead discovered the noble river which immortalizes his name.

Hudson planted the flag under which he navigated on the wooded shores of the river and the bay, proclaiming he land a dependency of their Highnesses the States-General of Holland.

Manhattan island, we are told, was named by the Indians Man-a-hatta, to denote not only the landing-place of the discoverer, but the effects of the "mad waters" which he gave to the natives in his first interview; the literal interpretation of the name being "the place where we all got drunk."

The Dutch very speedily began to make use of their new dominion. The trade in furs was wonderfully good, and as early as 1613 trading posts were established on Staten and Manhattan Islands.

In 1614 the States-General granted a trading charter which recognized "New Netherland" as a Dutch territory.

New Amsterdam was the title by which the Hollanders distinguished their little dorp, or village, the nucleus of which had been formed by a few huts erected as early as 1613 for sheltering their fur trade and whale fishery, on the point where it is supposed Hudson had landed. By that name it was known for more than forty years as the capital, during the administrations--1625 to 1664--of Minuet, Van Twiller, Kieft and Stuyvesant, the successive Directors or Governors-General of Novum Belgium, or New Netherlands, a province, which embraced portions of the present States of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

The charter establishing the Dutch West Indies Company was granted on June 3, 1621, and the supervision and government of the company were lodged in a board or assembly of nineteen delegates. The company was empowered to raise forts, to administer justice and preserve order, and with the consent of the States-General, appoint a Governor or Director-General, and all other officers, military, judicial and executive, all being bound to swear allegiance to their High Mightiness and the Company. The Director-General and his council were then invested with all powers--judicial, legislative and executive, subject in certain cases to appeal to Holland.

In 1624 peter Minuet, the first Director-General, arrived at new Netherland. His council consisted of Pieter Bylvelt, Jacob Elbertsen Wissinck, Jan Janssen, Brouwer, Symen Dereksen Pos, and Reynert Harmenssen. This council had supreme authority, and all its proceedings, whether criminal or civil, were instituted and conducted by an officer call a "Schout Fiscal," whose duties were equivalent tot hose performed by a sheriff and an attorney-general. He was charged principally with enforcing and maintaining the placards, laws, ordinances, resolutions and military regulations of their High Mighinesses, the States-General, and protecting the rights, domains and jurisdiction of the company, and executing their orders, as well in as out of court, without favor or respect to individuals. He superintended all prosecutions, and suits, but could not undertake any actions on behalf of the company, except by order of the council; nor arraign, nor arrest any person on a criminal charge, except on information previously received, or unless he caught him in flagrante delictu. In taking information he was bound to note as well those points which made for the prisoner as those which supported the charge against him, and after trial he saw to the faithful execution of the sentence pronounced by the judges, who, in indictments carrying wit them loss of life and property, were not be less than five in number. He, moreover, attended to the commissaries arriving from the Company's out-posts and to vessels arriving from and leaving for Holland, inspected their papers, and superintended the loading and discharging of their cargoes, so that smuggling might be prevented. He transmitted to the directors in Holland copies of all information taken by him, as well as of all sentences pronounced by the court, and no person was kept long in prison at the expense of the Company without special cause, but all were prosecuted as expeditiously as possible. This office, perhaps the most responsible in the colony, was filled, during the administration of Director Minuet, by Jan Lampo, of Cantelberg.

The nucleus of a permanent settlement was formed by the arrival of a number of emigrants in 1625. Director minuet "took up his residence in the midst of a nation called Manhates, building a fort there, to be called Amsterdam, having four points, and faced outside with stone, as the walls of sand fall down, and are now more compact." The population consisted of two hundred and seventy, including men, women, and children. Director Minuet rebuilt the fort and planned out something in the guise of a town--a very small one indeed--about it, 1629.

Wouter Van Twiller succeeded Minuet in 1632, and in his day we find the first trace of penal or police system. It may readily be imagined that with the scant population and the simple mode of life that was, perforce, led by all, there was very little necessity indeed for any written law or display of constituted authority. Still we find that a "gibbet, or whipping post" was set up close to the water's edge. The method of punishment was curious. The transgressors, it appears, were fastened to a line by their waistband, and being hoisted from the ground, were left suspended in spread-eagle fashion, "such length of time as their offenses warranted." No doubt the correction was as salutary as it must have been unpleasant, and tended to intimidate such elements of disorder as existed at the time.

Notwithstanding this landmark of penal legislation, however, the colony, taken as a whole, was "a good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see." We are informed that such was the peaceful and orderly disposition of the inhabitants at this very early day--and for some years after--that police regulations were almost entirely unknown, "not even a sentinel being kept on duty." The good folk of New Amsterdam were distinguished for their good nature, love of home, and cordial hospitality. So strict were the early notions of propriety, that to be out after nine o'clock was considered a certain sign of bad morals.

There were also among the Dutch, individual characters whose former pursuits and vagrant modes of life little fitted them to patiently endure personal injuries or insult. Some had been freebooters among the islands in the Gulf and been thorn by the waves of fortune upon this scene of adventure, and some though brought hither by ordinary currents of trade and speculation, were adventurous and sanguine spirits, diverted to new pursuits from the military service.

Among other improvements brought about by Van Twiller was the erection of dwellings "for the corporal, the smith, the cooper, and the midwife," person who must have held positions of no small importance in these early days.

William Kieft became Director or Governor of the new Netherland in 1638, and in the following years considerable bodies of settlers arrived from Holland under Captain de Vries, and Jochem Pietersen Kuyter and Cornelius Melyn. The island, or at least is southern part, began to lose its savage aspect fast. Some thirty farms were under cultivation, and the country about the walls of the fort resembled a blooming garden. Previously the population had been mainly composed of traders in the employ of the West India Company, who, having no intention of making the place a permanent home, were content to live in any sort of huts. Now, however, many better homes were built, and an aspect of permanent settlement began to mark the place.

Apropos to the primitive form in which justice was administered before Director Kieft's arrival, a good story is told, which, if it be not literally true, is at least characteristic. One of the reasons, it is said, why justice was administered with great promptness and impartiality was that there were no lawyers, and every man either pleaded his own case, or let judgment go by default. There appeared at last in the colony, however, a certain pettifogger or "Doddipol Jolterhead," as the chronicle hath it, Bobes Van Clapperclip by name. In pleading a cause respecting the right of geese to swim in the pond at the head of New Street--before Alderman or Schepen Van Schlegevalkher--he made the only long speech on records at that period. His eloquence was so great that he caused his clients to be incontinently non-suited, for the Alderman, losing all patience with this pleader, gave himself up to the embraces of the "balmy god.' and slept out the remainder of the term.

Governor Kieft was possessed of a busy, bustling temperament, and his energies found plenty of room in New Amsterdam. His administration, in the main, was calculated to benefit the place in no small degree, doing much towards the establishment of a firm basis of law, and much in the way of material improvement. Most notable of the latter was the erection of a Stadt Huys--State House, or City hall--on the corner of pearl Street and Coenties alley, fronting on Coenties Slip. This building was put up in 1642, and, besides containing rooms where the Governor and his council could meet, had accommodations for the municipal authorities, a school-room, a watch-room, and dungeons in the cellar. The building saw many notable scenes in its day--the mark of progress has long since swept it from the face of the island--among them the transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the British government in 1664 and 1674, and the holding of the first Court of Admiralty in the province by Governor Nichols in 1665.

The Stadt Huys was taken down in the year 1700. It was built originally at the cost of the government as a city tavern, but was presented to the city in 1655. The chamber occupied for the sitting of the Magistrates was on the south-east corner of the second story, the prison chamber being in the rear--on the other side of the house--facing a yard which extended to "Hough Street." Upon the roof was a cupola in which was hung a bell in the year 1656, which was rung for the assemblage of the Magistrates, and also on occasions of the publication of proclamations, which were done in front of the hall. The Bell-ringer for a number of years was Jan Gillisen (familiarly called "Koeck.") this ancient edifice, which was substantially built of stone, stood until the year 1699,--nearly sixty years--when it gave place to the City Hall, in Wall Street, at the head of Broad Street.

The gallows, by a barbarous anomaly, had been regarded as an evidence of civilization. In that case New York in colonial times must have reached a high state of refinement. It did not take much to send a poor wretch to the gallows, or to burn him at the stake, or to break him by torture. Among the earliest institutions of the budding province were jails, prisons, a bridewell, and houses of correction. Previous to the building of the Stadt Huys, there was a prison, or place of confinement for prisoner, within the old fort; but on the building of the City hall it ceased to be used for that purpose.

The Governor issued regulations for the better observance of the Sabbath; interdicting the tapping of beer during the hours of divine service or after ten o'clock at night; brawling and all kinds of offenses were to be punished by the severest penalties. In carrying out his reform measures, Governor Kieft seems to have found the town bell an efficient ally. It was rung every evening at nine o'clock to warn the inhabitants that it was time to be within doors, if not in bed; and it was rung again at stated hours in the morning and afternoon, to mark the proper hours for going to labor. It was also rung as a preliminary to the reading of the Governor's proclamations. That these last were not mere empty threats may be sufficiently judged from the following sentence, imposed during one of the later years of Kieft's incumbency:

"For drawing his knife upon a person, Guysbert Reygerslard is sentenced to throw himself three times from the sailyard of the yacht Hope, and to receive from each sailor three lashes at the ringing of the bell."

A Burgher guard having been established (the first of which we find any record, an ordinance of the Director and Council of New Netherland in relation thereto was passed November 19, 1643, as follows:

"1. If any one, on the Burgher guard, take the name of God in vain, he shall forfeit for the first offense ten stivers; for the second, twenty stivers; and for the third time, twenty stivers.

"2. Whosoever on the Burgher guard speaks ill of a comrade shall forfeit thirty stivers.

"3. Whosoever comes fuddled or intoxicated on guard, shall, for each offense, pay twenty stivers; whosoever is absent from his watch, without lawful reason, shall forfeit fifty stivers.

"4. After the watch is duly performed and daylight is come, and the reveille beaten, whosoever discharges his gun or musket without orders of his Corporal shall pay one guilder."

Kieft's administration was marked by Indian Wars, provoked in great part by the Director-General's imprudence. These wars almost depopulated the colony of New Amsterdam, and in the end led to his re-call.

Peter Stuyvesant, Kieft's successor, came out in May, 1647. New regulations were established, contemporaneous with his appointment, for the government of the province. The Director, Vice-Director and Schout constituted the Council, and had supreme authority in civil and military affairs. The fort was repaired and a permanent garrison of fifty-three men maintained. The colonists were counseled to provide themselves with weapons and to form a provincial militia. he began a career of reform immediately on his arrival, with all that impetuosity--not untempered by sound sense--which was displayed in his whole career. Here is one of the first of his manifestos, translated, of course, form the original Dutch.

"Whereas, we have observed and remarked the insolence of some of our inhabitants, who are in the habit of getting drunk, of quarreling, fighting and of smiting each other on the Lord's Day of Rest (of which, on the last Sunday, we ourselves witnessed the painful scenes, and to the knowledge of which we came by report) in defiance of the magistrates, to the contempt and disregard of our person and authority, to the great annoyance of the neighborhood, and finally to the injury and dishonoring of God's holy laws, and commandments, which enjoin upon us to honor and sanctify him on this, His Holy Day of Rest, and which proscribe all personal injury and murder, with the means and temptations that may lead thereunto.

"Therefore, by the advice of His Excellency, the Director-General, and out ordained Council, here present, to the end that we may, so far as it is possible and practicable, take all due care and prevent the curse of God instead of His blessing from falling upon us and out good inhabitants, do, by these presents, charge, command, and enjoin upon all tapsters and innkeepers, that on the Sabbath of the Lord, commonly called Sunday, before two of the clock in the afternoon, in case there is no preaching, or otherwise, before four of the clock (in the afternoon) they shall not be permitted to set, nor draw, nor bring out for any person or persons, any wines, beers, nor any strong waters of any kind whatsoever, on whatever pretext, excepting only persons traveling and the daily boarders that may from necessity be confined to their places of abode, in the penalty of being deprived of their occupations, and, over than, in the penalty of six Carolus guilders for each person that during said time may or shall have run up a score for wine or beer in their house.

"And to the end that we may take all due care to prevent all rash drawing of knives, all fightings and personal injuries, and all catastrophes resulting from the same, any person or persons who shall rashly or in anger draw any knife or dagger against any other person, shall be fined the penalty of one hundred Carolus guilders, or in failure of payment of the same, they shall be put to the most menial labor, with bread and water for this subsistence; or in the case any person shall have been wounded thereby, the penalty shall be three hundred Carolus guilders, or an addition half year's confinement to the most menial labor, with bread and water for their subsistence.

"WE also do charge and command our Fiscal, our Lieutenant, our Sergeants, our Corporals, and every one of our citizens and inhabitants, as well as the soldiers, on all occasions to take measure that all such persons be pursued and apprehended, so that they may be proceeded against and dealt with as the law directs."

Plainly the people of the colony had grown very bad in a little while. They had a very vigorous ruler over them now. The proclamation just quoted was shortly followed by a second, in which His Excellency set forth that he had learned that the former one was disregarded. Many persons, he says, are diverted from their proper calling to that of tapping by the ease with which profits are realized, so much so that "almost one full fourth part of the City of New Amsterdam have become bawdy houses for the sale of ardent spirits, tobacco, and beer." The company’s servants, the Governor says, are thus led astray, and the youth are corrupted. "Honest inns," too, established for travelers and strangers, and which pay their taxes and excises righteously, were seriously interfered with in their lawful business. His Excellency therefore orders that from that time forth, no new tavern, inn, or other place for the sale of liquor shall be opened without his consent, and those in the business already are notified that within four years, they must close and employ themselves in more "honest business."

Other ordinances were framed causing the removal of hog-pens and out-houses from the highway; prohibiting trespass upon enclosed orchards, fields, or gardens, under penalty of a hundred guilders; and ordering that all the inhabitants put their plantations in good fence so that cattle may be kept out. A pound was established for trespassing cattle; greater stability in building was enjoined; and it was decreed that all grants of land should be revoked unless improvements were made within nine months.

From such simple and primitive regulations have germinated the vast system of police laws and ordinance of our day.

In 1648, Governor Stuyvesant also appointed fire wardens for the first time. Their duty was to inspect all the chimneys at stated intervals.

It will be interesting at this point to take a glance at the system of administration that prevailed in the colony and in the city. The Director-General was vested with almost autocratic powers. He appointed all public offices, save such as were sent out from Holland; he made laws, imposed fines, levied taxes, inflicted penalties, incorporated towns, decided all civil and criminal causes of magnitude except capital case, which were sent to Holland for trial--without the aid of a jury, and settled appeals from lower tribunals. The Governor was aided by a council of five of the best men of the colony. Next in importance to him were the Koopman and Schout-Fiscal, the former being the secretary of the West India Company's warehouse. The latter, as had been said, discharged the collective functions of sheriff and attorney-general, and was, besides, the executive officer of the Director and Council, and custom-house officer. The Schout-Fiscal was allowed to sit in the Council during its deliberations, but had no voice in the proceedings. He had no stated salary for his multifarious services, but was compensated by certain fees allowed him in particular cases.

The appointment of a Rattle-watch led, on October 12, 1651, to the adoption of the following rules:

    1. Watchmen to be on duty before bell-ringing, under penalty of six stivers.
    2. Whoever stays away without sending a substitute, to be fined two guilders for benefit of the regular watch.
    3. One guilder fine for drunkenness.
    4. Ten stivers fine for sleeping on post.
    5. If any arms are stolen through negligence of the watch, the watchman to pay for the arms and be fined one guilder for the first, two guilders for the second, and the fine for the third offense to be discretionary with the court.
    6. A fine of two guilders for going away from the watch, and one guilder for missing turn.
    7. The Watch to call the hour at all corners from 9 A. M. until reveille, for which they received an additional compensation of eighteen guilders per month.



Our Police Protectors, History of the New York Police, Published for the benefit of the Police Pension Fund, by Augustine Costello, Published by Author, 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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